What Tech Can Do For Your Health And Your Government

How can technology make your government more open?

“At its purest, technology can sponsor transparency and empower citizens,” said Emma Jane Cross, the founder BeatBullying and the online community powerhouse The BB Group. “It can fight corruption, strengthen governance, encourage democracy, and protect the voiceless, the disempowered and ignored.”

“In the U.K., open data makes it possible to compare health care demographics so citizens can compare operation success rates. In Latvia open data is opening up the legislative and policy process, turning consultation into an online art form. In Brazil, government budgets are published online, and Chileans use the power of technology to demand that political parties offer the electorate detailed and open information about political donations.”

Applied with the best of intention, technology is a leveler. It can democratize access and can allow people from across the world to speak truth to power in a way they have never been able to before.

Rufus Pollock runs the Open Knowledge Foundation, catalysing a global movement that opens raw data sources to larger populations of people. By democratizing access to data, the Open Knowledge Foundation is creating a global change in transparency, citizen empowerment, social justice, and accountability for policy makers, companies, and those in positions of power.

On tech for open governments, Rufus commented:

“Digital technologies enable governments to share information openly with all their citizens, whether it is data about elections, spending or lobbying. They can also engage their citizens through digital services and social media. While these technologies are not a panacea, and come with new challenges, there has never been a better time for governmental openness and new forms of democratic participation and engagement. As one example, the Open Knowledge Foundation’s OpenSpending platform, which brings together open government data on finances with analytics and visualization, is revolutionizing the accessibility and comprehensibility of this crucial area of government.”

Ashoka Fellow Rob Hopkins, who runs the Transition Network, is less optimistic: “Personally, I don’t think that online polls and petitions as lobbying tools make that much difference.

“The thing that really catches government attention and openness to new ideas is modeling them in practice, on the ground, and presenting them in such a way that they represent solutions to problems a government is trying to figure out answers to,” Hopkins continued. “Technology and social media can be at its most powerful when telling those stories in accessible and inspiring ways.”

How can online communities help build healthier societies?

“Technology makes it much easier for people to connect and interact, and enables the growth of new communities around shared interests,” Hopkins said. “While it is important to recognize that online communities often reflect and reinforce offline interests and relationships, they can also enable more constructive deliberation and debate, and understanding and cooperation, than ever before. However, the fact that people are able to access other networks of people and viewpoints different from their own does not necessarily mean that they will!

“At the Open Knowledge Foundation we have worked hard to build online communities of people from more than 50 countries around the world who all share an interest in using open information to improve the world—which has led to many offline projects and collaborations.”

Through The BB Group, Emma Jane Cross is transforming how young people access support for mental health and well-being, using BeatBullying as a gateway. Her ultimate aim is to use the Internet to transform how entry-level support is delivered, radically increasing the reach of services.

“Digital communities are transforming lives, and fundamentally changing the way we connect, interact and care for each other,” she said. “The effective and expert use of these networked communities, accessed across multiple devices anytime, anywhere, have the potential to enable, and empower millions of people to lead happier, healthier, more fulfilled lives.

By joining, contributing to, and embracing online communities, we can access the power of the crowd—friends, mentors, supporters, comrades, and experts, all available to offer advice, assistance and counsel.

“For some of us online communities are the re-invention of the extended family, the supportive neighborhood,” said Cross. “Technology is allowing us to—and demanding that—we re-network ourselves together as a society. It’s as powerful and as simple as that.”

While technology has shifted the way we learn, love and live, it can’t do everything.

“Online communities rarely come around and help if your roof blows off in the night, or fundraise if you have a house fire,” said Hopkins.

But that may change soon…

 

Editor's note: The article originally appeared on Forbes.

Photo Credit: Flickr/opensourceway

This article was originally published on June 14, 2013
Related TopicsDevelopment & Prosperity, Technology, Social Entrepreneurship

Author

Felicity McLean
Ashoka UK Communications Manager

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